Mon | Aug 10, 2020

Lagoon development stand-off

Published:Wednesday | November 6, 2019 | 12:26 AMHuntley Medley/Senior Business Writer
Dr Guna Muppuri, developer of Villa Vivan and president and CEO of Indies Pharma Jamaica Limited.
Dr Guna Muppuri, developer of Villa Vivan and president and CEO of Indies Pharma Jamaica Limited.

A dispute has erupted over the construction of a villa and beachfront structures in the upscale Lagoons residential community in Montego Freeport by medical doctor and entrepreneur Dr Guna Muppuri.

The homeowners’ association, Lagoons Management Limited, headed by another businessman, Yoni Epstein, has instructed Muppuri to cease construction at Lot 34 Calypso Drive in The Lagoons, where he is building his home, Villa Vivan.

The association contends that the construction on the beach directly in front of Muppuri’s lot will block the view of his neighbours and ­create ­environmental damage to the Bogue lagoons, after which the community is named.

A petition is now under way among some Lagoon home­owners seeking to have Muppuri’s permits from NEPA rescinded.

In the most recent stand-off, Muppuri filed a formal complaint with the police and called on them last Thursday to assist his workmen regain access to the construction site after their gate passes were rescinded.

The businessman, a principal in Bioprist Group and Indies Pharma Jamaica, initially directed the Financial Gleaner to his lawyer, Gordon Brown of Chancellor and Company, but Brown could not be reached for comment. Muppuri later provided a copy of his written complaint to the police, dated October 31, which was accompanied by 16 documents detailing communication with Lagoons Management, plans, land title, and building permits received from the St James Municipal Corporation and National Environment & Planning Agency, NEPA.

According to the documentation and NEPA permits, the foreshore construction includes a jetty with a gazebo; a rock groyne and breakwater submerged platform, both designed to protect the beach against ­erosion and the house against wave action; beach reclamation and replenishment.

Muppuri has since provided a ‘no objection’ document from one of his two neighbours, whom he did not name, regarding his development.

National Land Agency and Tax Administration Jamaica records and the NEPA permits show Muppuri’s property bordered by Lot 33, registered to Denham Howden, and Lot 35, registered to Portland Holdings Limited. Epstein confirmed to the Financial Gleaner that he is the owner of Lot 35.

The development of Villa Vivan is being undertaken through Starfish Holdings Limited, a company owned by Muppuri and his wife.

Lot 34 was purchased by the Muppuris and transferred from Rainford and Marsha Reid in 2015, according to the title for the property. Muppuri now resides at leased premises in The Lagoons.

Muppuri said that since Epstein’s objection, first raised in 2018, he has insisted on building in accordance with the permits granted by the planning authorities.

Questions to NEPA CEO Peter Knight regarding the dispute were acknowledged, but the Financial Gleaner was advised to submit its queries to the agency’s Access to Information office, which was done.

The documents submitted to the police note that at an extraordinary meeting of Lagoons Management on October 7, Muppuri made a presentation to some 15 of the more than 150 lot owners detailing his construction plans and permits, and using Google Earth maps to show several beach structures at The Lagoons.

Days later, on October 11, Muppuri was served with a cease-and-desist order from Lagoons Management, through its attorney, Christian Tavares-Finson, and his workmen prevented from accessing the property. Muppuri says the workmen were allowed in on October 15, but were again restricted on October 30.

Following the intervention of the police, access was again granted to the work crew on November 1.

“After a discussion with Superintendent of Police in Saint James Vernon Ellis, Lagoons Management Limited will temporarily reinstate the contractor passes for Lot 34 in Lagoons,” Epstein wrote to Muppuri in an email seen by the Financial Gleaner.

Responding to Financial Gleaner queries, Epstein says lot owners in The Lagoons sign a maintenance agreement stating, among things, that all construction drawings be submitted to the Lagoons architectural committee for approval before consent is sought from the relevant authorities.

“In this case, Dr Muppuri got his approvals from the St James Municipal Corporation in order to build his house, and the committee reviewed it to ensure that it met all the architectural guidelines, which it did, and the committee granted him approval to build his home. We could not grant committee approval for his foreshore reclamation work because we hadn’t been presented with the necessary construction drawings for that aspect of his development,” Epstein said in a written response.

He adds that when the committee was presented in October 2018 with the approvals from NEPA, the members had several concerns, including the scope of the reclamation that appeared to go beyond a buffer boundary that extends into the water.

“This also means that he will be going out 100 feet into the water to build a rock groyne and based on the site plan that was shared with the committee, it will host a putting green, a swimming pool, massage tables, saunas, bathrooms, a bar, a grill, a dock and a beach … potentially, they will block the view of his neighbours, which is against the architectural guidelines of Lagoons,” Epstein said.

Google Earth maps, some supplied by Epstein to the Financial Gleaner, show that several lots at Lagoons have already done beach works similar to that being undertaken by Muppuri.

However, Epstein said in response that: “The community feels that this level of reclamation … is unnecessary and is unprecedented in The Lagoons, and far more than any other lot owner has done.”

Epstein said Muppuri was asked at the October 7 meeting to redesign the site plan and not to pass the buffer zone on his title. The passes to the workmen were revoked because the foreshore reclamation works continued, the Lagoons Management chairman said.

The homeowners’ association says it has written to NEPA, which provided copies of the approvals, but needs the lot owner’s approval to share the environmental impact study and construction drawings.

Epstein adds that attempts to discuss the matter further with Muppuri have been unsuccessful. In an email to Epstein on November 1, Muppuri said a precondition to any such discussion is that Lagoons Management ends its attempts to shut down his construction.

Muppuri says he is prepared to take the matter to court if actions by the association to thwart his construction continue. Epstein says the association stands by its October 7 decision, but wants to settle the issue through dialogue.

The peninsular on which the Lagoons community is built is the former Bob Marley Entertainment Centre and was the home of the now-defunct Reggae Sunsplash before the land was sold to private developers by its previous owner, the Urban Development Corporation, around the late 1980s.

Both Muppuri and Epstein are investors in the business process outsourcing industry, through Bioprist Knowledge Park and itelBPO, respectively, and both men are former presidents of the Business Processing Industry Association of Jamaica.